Take a breath, pause, and gift yourself the time to delve into Seasons of a Magical Life: A Pagan Path of Living by H. Byron Ballard. In doing so, use the wisdom shared in this book to create a guide to a more connected way of living and co-existing. As Ballard writes, “this book is an invitation to modern Pagans to return to a simpler and quieter time, either literally or virtually, through letters from a small forest-farm in the southern highlands of the Appalachian Mountains.”3
The educationally credentialed author, H. Byron Ballard (BA, MFA), is a teacher and folklorist as well as a senior priestess. Her life and work are centered in Asheville, North Carolina, where she is a co-founder of Mother Grove Goddess Temple and the Coalition of Earth Religions.
As I read, I felt as if I was accompanying Ballard around her farm. I could smell the air, feel the weather, and taste the food offerings. I was afforded the experience of spending time with her and the life force that surrounds her in her mountain setting and, by extension, the life force that surrounds me in my setting.
As the cover indicates, the book focuses on the celebrations, festivals, and rituals for the Wheel of the Year. It is divided into three parts. Part One is a five-chapter section that offers background essays “Animism, Mutual Aid, and Permaculture”, “Tower Time and the Conceit of the Ever-Turning Wheel”, “A Different Means to Reckon Time”, “Re-enchantment and the Uses of Magic”, and “the Good Neighbors, the Land Spirits”.
Part Two is comprised of two chapters, focusing on the Wheel of the Agricultural Year: “Winter, The Waxing Year” and “Summer, the Waning Year”. Within those chapters are the equinoxes of spring and fall. “The chapters are broken into the four seasons, with the Quarter Days a highlight within each, and include simple skills that accompany each marker of the year.”4
Part Three wraps up with “Hearth”, a “chapter on the spiritual and physical immersion into these seasons”5 no matter where one lives, rural, urban, or suburban.
The essays offered in Part One are intended to “not only give the reader a map of (the) journey but also to introduce some ideas to better inform the journey.”6 Some essays were written as if Ballard was talking to a friend as they climbed a hill, while others unfold in a more informational manner, such as the sections on Ember Days and Embertide and Rogation Days.
As one who communicates daily with the trees and rocks that surround my house, I loved the writings on animism and permaculture. Re-enchantment? Yes, please; I could use a healthy dose of that. However, I recommend taking time to sit with what is being offered in these essays as some are more “heady” than others.
I liked how Ballard did not write about these topics in a clinical, detached manner. She walks the reader around her property as she delves into these subjects; the reader is invited to sit at her kitchen table as she prepares meals. Living seasonally, living and working by the natural light, living with the rhythms of nature.
Wanting to not only read the book but also practice the activities offered, when I finished the section on the essays and moved to Part Two, the “Wheel of the Year”, I began reading the final chapter first, Chapter 7, “Summer: The Waning Year,” as I received the book a few days before Lammas, the Season of the First Harvest.
As with all of the sections on the Wheel of the Year, Ballard offers a letter from her forest-farm, skills to use, chores to be completed, foods for the season, traditions and celebrations, activities to do with children and other friends, an icon of the season and a concluding paragraph on season’s end.
For Lammas, in her letter from her forest-farm, she writes about how hot and dry the farm now is and surveys what is happening in the garden – an abundance of squash and tomatoes, days of “sweat and effort.”7 She offers a lesson on bread-making including the “philosophy” of kneading and sour dough. Chores such as canning and pickling are covered. Traditions and celebrations such as the blessed loaf and the ceremony of cakes and ale are introduced.
The Lammas section continues with recommended activities for Children and Other Friends, including shaping a loaf person and making corn dollies. The icon written about is Wheat as Lammas is “the first in a series of three harvest festivals that is usually dominated by bread – making it, shaping it, and eating it.”8
It concludes with a paragraph on Season’s End that encapsulates the essence of the season, for Lammas, namely looking to the “symbol of the harvest and what that means about gratitude in your life – how you express it, how you use it.”9
She asks the reader to look at the intention that was planted in the Spring — both literally and symbolically and see if the reader tended to this intention — and if it’s ready to “feed you now, that thing that you imagined planting?”10
The book’s final section delves into the aspects of hearth and homely life. She praises homeliness – simplicity in one’s home, comfort, pleasant but ordinary. She invites the reader to view the kitchen as living space for nurturing physically and emotionally. Home altars both indoors and outdoors are discussed as spiritual anchors. Ironically, while I have a home altar, I hadn’t thought of creating an outdoor altar until reading this book. She writes of – are you ready? – laundry as a meditative practice, which after reading I now understand.
I especially love the book’s concluding lines, offered as a friend waving as you depart their home and sending you off with love:
“There is so much to do, every day, to tuck in the ends of this weaving we are creating: to observe and really see, to listen and really hear, to integrate our intuition and our Ancestral memory into a practice so practiced it no longer feels artificial. It only feels like living a good life and a full one.”11
I highly recommend not only reading Seasons of a Magical Life – but living it. For those who are looking to deepen their connection to the natural cycles of the year, this is a great book to have in one’s library. It offers simple, practical ways to engage with the seasonal energy of the year as it makes its way around the wheel of time. Many of these small practices are certain to enchant one’s life and bring a deeper sense of purpose to the small actions we do daily, fostering an appreciation of the current moment in time that is grounded yet extraordinarily magical.
Anne Greco is a non-fiction writer who writes about her life experiences and travels with humor, keen observations, and the hope that her words will remind us that “we’re all just walking each other home.” Her book, Serendipity: Chance Pilgrimages, tells the story of Anne encountering her places of power. As she reconnects with herself at each site, Anne also develops a deeper understanding and appreciation of her connection to both the seen and unseen worlds. Learn more about her work here: http://annegrecowriter.com.
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In addition to the book being an invitation to participate in radical self-care, a second, equally important invitation, is to “sit with the shadow, and in the shadows, and to acknowledge our connection, our profound debt to these shadows.”2page xvi
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